Warhawk is a 32-player, multiplayer-only shooter from Sony. It has ties back to another Warhawk, an early game for the original PlayStation that focused on the warhawk itself, a fighter jet that can convert to hover mode and back again. You probably don't remember it, which hardly matters, because the multiplayer focus of the PlayStation 3 Warhawk game leaves it with no real story and no real sense of the war you're fighting. This game has a stripped-down feel, but the exciting gameplay certainly makes up for those feelings. This is blue versus red across multiple modes and maps, in the land or in the air. And it's excellent fun.
The real story of Warhawk isn't about the epic conflict between two opposing sides. It's about how this game has been made available. If you want it immediately, it's a downloadable purchase from the PlayStation Store for $39.99. If you're desperately in need of more things to put on shelves, or if you want a voice-chat device, you can buy the game in stores for the standard $59.99 in a package that comes with a wireless headset, some behind-the-scenes video, and a full manual. There's no functional difference between the two games, so it really comes down to personal preference. The downloadable version does not come with instructions at all, which is sort of messed up. Other games on the PlayStation 3 have had Web browser links built in to load up offsite manuals and things like that, but Warhawk has none. So the only way you'd know that you need to push the L3 button to talk or find out about the zones mode is to fumble around for yourself or go to Sony's site, where it has a downloadable manual available. But even that manual, which comes in the box with the retail version, doesn't explain everything, such as some of the terms used in the ranking screen.
It's a good thing, then, that most of Warhawk is incredibly straightforward. It's easy to jump right into a game using the game's server browser, and there seem to already be plenty of people playing at all hours. If you've ever played something like Battlefield 2 or Star Wars: Battlefront, you'll probably take to Warhawk's brand of team-based multiplayer shooting quickly, as it's a simplified take on that experience. The maps have bases strewn about that your team can capture. Capturing them gives you a place to spawn, or if you're playing in the zones mode, it'll help you earn points toward winning the game. You spawn on foot, with nothing but a lowly pistol and a couple of grenades. But at bases and spawn points, you can usually find a host of weapons. These include an assault rifle, flamethrower, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and binoculars, some of which you can use to call in air strikes. You'll also find plenty of vehicles, such as jeeps, tanks, and the warhawk itself. And in some fortified areas, you'll find turrets that shoot flak or homing missiles, which are very, very effective against incoming aircraft. All of this balances out nicely because the ground troops can take out vehicles with the homing rockets from the rocket launcher, the turrets can defend base positions against air--but not as well against other vehicles--and the tanks are usually sitting ducks for warhawks to plink away at with swarm missiles or cluster bombs.
One of the major gameplay differences between Warhawk and other similar shooters is that you'll find a ton of aircraft on most of the maps. Sometimes you'll feel as if half of the game's 32-player limit is buzzing around, dogfighting overhead, or attempting to strafe ground targets. This gives it a unique feel, and it's a lot of fun. Warhawk controls well regardless of what you're piloting too. You can play around with controller sensitivity to get things just right, and, if you like, you can fly the warhawk using the tilt sensing of the Sixaxis controller. However, the tilt support never feels responsive enough to be useful in tense situations.
Warhawk comes with five different maps. Before you get all up in arms about how low that number looks, each map can be configured for different game sizes, so there are configurations for small, medium, and large-sized games. Each map also has a dogfight configuration, giving you more warhawks to use. The different configurations make the maps feel totally different, giving you different strategies to work with and so on. This means that playing in an eight-player game can be just as thrilling as a 32-player fracas. There are also multiple modes. Team deathmatch works as you would expect, with control-point captures giving you new places to spawn but no real points benefit. Capture the flag is a standard two-flag CTF mode that puts flags in each team's main base. Zones mode creates colored circles around each base, and the goal is to earn points faster than the other guys by holding more zones than the other team. The zones link together if you hold the right ones and level up your control over them to make the colored circles bigger, which brings in even more points. Lastly, there's a deathmatch mode, which can be fun for dogfights, but this is very much a team-based game, so playing with no team to back you up isn't as much fun. You can also play online with a split-screen, which allows multiple players to play online from the same machine. On top of playing on the Internet, the game has support for LAN games.
Outside of the game, you can chart your progress to look at your rank and medals. You'll earn ribbons for a variety of round-specific accomplishments, such as finishing first on the winning team, getting 10 antiair kills, not shooting your teammates, and so on. Badges and medals also take your global counts into consideration, giving you awards, such as a meritorious service medal. You'll get this award for capturing the flag 100 times, defending 100 zones, capturing 500 zones, and then getting two flag captures in the same game. That's sort of steep, but it certainly gives you something to shoot for as you play. As you rise in rank, you'll unlock additional head, shirt, and pants types for your soldiers, giving you a clear way on the battlefield to see if someone's totally raw or a honed online killing machine.
Warhawk will run in 480p, 720p, or 1080i, and the game looks really nice overall. Its greatest visual feature is that you have a very long draw distance, giving you a clear view of things that are really far away. For example, on one map, which is made up of a series of high islands, you can sit in your base and see turrets moving in bases far, far in the distance. Armed with a sniper rifle, you can practically reach across the entire map and knock fools out. The equipment looks good, and it also blasts apart really well. Exploding warhawks cause burning hunks of metal to fall out of the sky, and it looks great. The game sound is also effective, with good weapon noises and explosions. Warhawk, unlike most online PlayStation 3 games, has voice chat, which comes in handy.
Regardless of how you get it, Warhawk is a great multiplayer shooter and one of the first of its kind to land on the still-new PlayStation 3. It offers just enough content to justify its price tag, but more importantly, it plays well, with just the right mix of tactical considerations and finger-on-the-trigger action. With hooks in there for additional map downloads, it'll be interesting to see how this one develops from here.